By Alexa Shrake
INDIANAPOLIS—Gov. Eric Holcomb drew sharp criticism Friday after signing legislation to remove state protections from Indiana’s wetlands, a measure opposed by businesses and environmental groups as well as a fifth-grader from Carmel.
Senate Enrolled Act 389 repeals the requirement of a permit for development or other impacts on wetlands and creates a task force to study wetlands.
Over 100 organizations opposed SEA 389, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s surprising and very disappointing that the governor signed a bill that is likely to have negative impacts on Indiana’s water quality, flood control and quality of place factors that the state needs to attract and retain a skilled workforce,” Kevin Brinegar, Indiana Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said in a statement issued Friday.
Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, saw “unprecedented unity” from organizations opposing the bill.
“We actually see this as a historically damaging bill,” Frank said. “This is one of the biggest setbacks in the history of Indiana environmental policy.”
According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, wetlands are home to wildlife and filters for drinking water and offer protection from floods.
Wednesday, the day before Holcomb signed the bill into law, Leo Berry, 11, founder of Helping Ninjas, which is an organization of youth environmentalists, went to the governor’s office at the Statehouse and delivered a petition with over 31,000 signatures asking for a veto.
“I know he felt let down by our governor. He was really hopeful,” said Rep. Maureen Bauer, D-South Bend, who voted against the bill. “I know Leo is not done. I told him I will work with him in the future and continue to protect our environment.”
Bauer said Leo, a fifth-grader in Carmel, is passionate about the future and wants to help.
“We have a right to a secure future, one that we can live in. The world that has been given to us, all of these wonderful things, and we continue to destroy it. If we continue to take everything from this world, there will be nothing left and neither will we,” Leo wrote on the Helping Ninjas site.
The House Environmental Affairs Committee amended the bill to restore some wetlands protection during the final weeks of the legislative session, which recessed April 22.
“Rather than trying to take a meat cleaver to this, we were a little more surgical and prescriptive in just trying to identify the problem and working within that,” said Rep. Harold Slager, R-Schererville during the committee hearing.
Holcomb has said he signed SEA 389 because he felt like the changes that were made improved the bill.
Indiana Democratic Party spokesman Drew Anderson said the passage of the bill has more to do with Republican interests than the wellbeing of Hoosiers.
“By signing Senate Enrolled Act 389—the wetlands bill—Governor Eric Holcomb once again proved that he would rather buckle to the demands of special interests and extreme partisanship than do what’s necessary to protect the future of our state,” Anderson said.
Most provisions in the bill take effect July 1.
“With the task force that is going ahead, I’m hopeful we can prove our case that we need our wetlands and we need to protect all classes of wetlands,” Bauer said. “I don’t think we’re done just yet.”
Alexa Shrake is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.